You’ve probably heard before that the Super Bowl is the most gambled-on sporting event in North America. Over the last five years, the average cumulative amount bet on the big game is $146.6 million … and that’s only counting wagers legally placed with American sportsbooks.
This year the Rams opened at 3.5-point favorites against the Bengals. That line was posted on Sunday night. By Monday it had moved to the Rams as 4-point favorites. Half a point might not seem like much … but for an event like this?
"It’s a huge deal," says David Wasson, a senior betting analyst with BetUs.com. "In a game like the Super Bowl, it’s millions of dollars worth of difference. It opened up just about everywhere at 3.5 and it moved almost instantly to 4.0, that means there were millions coming in very early trying to get that 3.5 and that pushed it to 4 right off the bat."
Then on Friday, it moved again, up to 4.5, as millions more in Rams money poured into sportsbooks. Well, it’s not exactly all Rams or Bengals bets.
"There’s a lot of money out there and as we know, the Super Bowl isn’t just about the line and the total and the money line. It’s about all the other stuff that’s out there," says Wasson.
We are now entering the wonderful world of Prop Bets. Those are non-traditional bets based on specific outcomes during the day. These kinds of bets have gotten so popular, it begs the question: is there anything related to the Super Bowl that cannot be bet on?
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"No is the answer," says Wasson. "If someone can dream it up, odds are there’s going to be a prop bet on it."
So, just how many prop bets are we talking about here?
"Hundreds and probably a good third of them having nothing to do with football."
Some prop bets are about the game like, which player scores the first touchdown (L.A. wide receiver Cooper Kupp is the favorite) or will the first offensive play of the game be a called run or pass (running it is a slight favorite).
But sportsbooks take a remarkable amount of action on things that have nothing to do with the game. In fact, one of the most popular bets is something that is truly a 50-50 chance: the coin flip. People love to bet whether it’s going to be heads or tails so much, they can actually move the line.
"Sometimes it gets to -118 for one and -122 for the other," says Wasson. "There is a little bit of money going one way or the other on that."
By the way, in the previous 55 Super Bowl coin flips, tails leads heads 29-26.
You can also expect to see a lot of action on the halftime show, especially in 2022. Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Eminem, Mary J. Blige and Kendrick Lamar are all fabulous talents … but a lot of the song choices aren’t exactly FCC-friendly. One prop is, will any part of Eminem’s performance have to be edited for TV, with YES as the +150 underdog.
What’s to keep him from putting a few million bucks on himself, dropping a few F-bombs and raking in the cash? The rules of the gambling game. There’s a cap on the amount you can wager.
"A lot of prop bets are low-level bets. You can’t lay six figures on whether or not Eminem is going to curse during his performance just because Em would probably do and make a tidy profit on the deal," says Wasson.
However, this does bring up the potential of point shaving. For example, one of the longer long shots is the Bengals at +5500 to get the first points of the game as neither a touchdown nor a field goal. Which means, if they get a safety to take a 2-0 lead, that bet pays out. If you put $1,000 dollars down, you’d make $55,000. That’s not a bad ROI and it could be enough to have a return man fumble through his own end zone on the opening kickoff to make a little profit.
The NFL used to be terrified of that kind of thing playing out in the biggest game of the year. Nowadays, it’s not as big of a concern because of how much money players make. The minimum salary is $660,000 for a rookie and it goes up each year from there, and that number is a lot bigger than anything a player could make on a prop bet.
Referees, however? That’s another story.
There are prop bets for whether or not a roughing the passer penalty will be called and which team will commit the first pass interference infraction. It's not inconceivable that a side judge making $149,000 a year could say they saw something and make a few extra thousand bucks.
"We certainly saw in the NBA (the case of Tim Donaghy) that officials can be gotten to. As we all know holding happens on every play, pass interference happens on almost every downfield throw, so you never really know who might be (making bets)," says Wasson, who says officials fixing the Super Bowl is possible but not likely.
"I’m not one of those black helicopter guys. I’m not one of those guys who thinks there’s a guy in Vegas on the other end of a headset talking to the official going hey, throw a flag here. There are too many moving parts in football with 22 players, a million cameras, a billion people watching. It would be hard to play off the Super Bowl like that."
Ron Torbert will be reffing his first Super Bowl. His crew threw the third-fewest flags in the league this season. So, maybe the under on 9.5 total penalties is a smart bet.
You can watch Super Bowl LVI on Sunday, Feb. 13 on NBC 7.